Dr Andy Raffles
Sleep Disturbance Q&A
Updated: Aug 3, 2019
Q) My 5 year old daughter is having consistent sleep problems and we are so tired! You'd have thought we'd have been used to the tired thing as she didn't sleep through the night until 2 years ago and was terrible as a baby. However, she's been a lot better since then, until now that is. In the last 2 weeks she's started to really play up at her bedtime . She constantly comes down the stairs crying and saying she's scared. She will not settle until anything between 8.30 and 10pm. Then in the night, she wakes and comes in frequently again crying and saying she's scared. Last night she was awake for over 2 hours and this is pretty much happening every night. If she's been up in the night she will sleep in until 7 or 8am but we have a 4 year old who is up at 6am so it leaves us somewhat shattered.
We are desperate for some sleep! We've reassured her that there's nothing scary around and tell her to think about all the nice things she's going to do the following day but nothing seems to help and we often just end up getting cross as we're not getting any time to ourselves.
A) There is nothing worse than sleep deprivation. It does sound like something has really bothered her recently, as it has only happened in the past two weeks.
Your approach by getting her to think about good things is great but you can take this one step further. When she is in bed at night ask her to tell you firstly 3 things she didn't like about the day she has just had and then 3 things she enjoyed. Always do it this way round so she sleeps with the good memory. Don't judge or criticise anything she says during this time but share any enthusiasm or excitement with her.
When you reassure her that there is nothing scary, it is important that you don't look under the bed/in cupboards behind the door etc. This would only give her the message that you believe there could be something lurking in her bedroom.
See if she can remember any dreams perhaps getting her to paint a picture of it and then tell you what she has painted.
Has she got a best friend who would perhaps come over for a sleepover which may break the pattern? Sometimes just breaking the pattern is all that is needed. Also reward her for staying in her bed by the use of a sticker chart. Tell her if she has stayed in her bed till you go to bed she will get a sticker and another one if she stays there all night. With 10 stickers she gets a special treat. Do not attempt all these, only ones that appeal to you as a family.
Sometimes something in her life may have triggered this episode of sleep disturbance – has she been ill, or has something happened in the immediate family which may have triggered this - such as one or other parent being away from home for a while, or a significant change in routine? All these seemingly minor life events can trigger sleep disturbance in an otherwise entirely normal and well balanced child.
If nothing works and it continues for a further period of time you may want to get her school involved, to see whether something there is causing a problem, and finally you may need a referral to a child psychologist or play therapist with an interest in sleep disturbance.
A website worth looking at, particularly with creating a useful sleep diary which can be taken to a GP , Health Visitor or specialist is:
Dr Andy Raffles